Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket

Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #5
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Mr. Lemoncello’s game-making factory is in Hudson Hills, NY, and recently a new, top-secret building was added to the grounds. Now it’s time for another game, for the first time taking place outside of Ohio, with competitors from Hudson Hills. The playing field is inside that new building, and the prize is a titanium ticket, one of multiple that will eventually be awarded. But the real prize, what the ticket gives its holder a chance at, is the biggest one yet!

Each book after the first in this series got a little less exciting for me. A little less interesting, a little less fresh. In this fifth book, all of the excitement from the first one came rushing back. It’s different and fun again. Not that some of the formula the series has developed isn’t there, but it feels new again. It helps a lot that we step away from the Ohio kids and meet some brand new ones. Kyle makes an appearance, but he’s just a side character. And the new MC, Simon, is different in a lot of ways.

There are several things that happen in the story that caused me to mentally cheer. I so wish I could expand on that at all, but I’ll just say that there were some great moments. I love the friendship that’s formed in the story and the way that whole thing turns out. And I really love how Simon’s personal story came to fruition.

The titanium ticket angle was a little predictable, and it’s a little frustrating to have another Charles Chiltington-type character, though this new one (Jack) is different in many ways too. I suppose some of that might just be the genre and intended age group. But those very minor issues aren’t even worth a partial-point detraction for me, and I am happy to highly recommend this book to kids around 8-12 years old, as well as others who are interested in this type of book. While I did feel the last few books in the series weren’t quite as book, I would suggested reading it all up to this point. And based on the ending, it’s clear that this series isn’t over yet.

Find out more about Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game

Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #4
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

If Kyle Keeley and his team thought the previous Lemoncello game was big, they haven’t seen anything yet. The next competition Kyle’s hero has dreamed up will be broadcast live on national television! And the winners will get to choose one from their team to be the host of a new kids’ game show, while the rest of the team are the first contestants. It’s game on as Kyle is up against his nemesis Charles Chiltington and some other competitors that will be tough to beat.

These books are beginning to become a bit formulaic, which is probably not good for this type of book. Kyle almost can’t compete for some reason, and then he can. Kyle/his team stops normal game play to solve some side mystery/issue. Spoiler: Kyle/his team wins almost by default because all or most of the other kids/teams were disqualified or gave up or joined Kyle’s team. Considering how much I loved the first book, I want to continue enjoying this series. But it’s starting to become repetitive and just silly. I did like the game, putting the kids into their own fictional stories in a way like holodecks work in Star Trek shows. Who of us hasn’t wanted to be able to do that? I still miss the more escape room, puzzle-y nature of the first book, though. There was a tiny bit of that again here, with 5 locks to open per team, but the puzzles, riddles, etc. that gave the codes were a lot lighter this time around.

I really appreciated that the game forced the kids (or at least Kyle) to see the “bad guy” in a new light. I only wish a little more had come from that. The thing that bugged me the most as I read this book was the dialog. I don’t know if this is new to this book, or if I simply didn’t notice it before, but all of the kids seem to talk the same way, in a particular format that I began to find grating. I won’t take the time to explain what I mean, because it seems really petty, but it happened enough that it started to bring the rest of the story down for me. And seriously…the TV-star kids were just over-the-top silly and ridiculous in their shticks.

I wonder if maybe they wouldn’t feel so formulaic if I wasn’t reading through them so quickly. It’s hard to know. I also want to stress that this book is meant for kids around 8-12 years old, and the things that bother me may well not be noticeable to them. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous ones, and I think that’s important to remember.

Find out more about Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #3
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

After a grand escape game and a library-fied version of the Olympics, Mr. Lemoncello brings his favorite 12-year-olds (though I’d guess some are probably 13 by now) a game that sends teams on a much grander adventure–across town in bookmobiles and across states in his banana jet. But trouble is afoot when Kyle’s team uncovers evidence that Mr. Lemoncello plagiarized his very first game. Will his newly honed research skills be enough to clear his hero’s name?

After loving the first book in the series and enjoying the second one as well, this one didn’t seem quite as good in the end. The required suspension of disbelief is much higher in this one, both because these kids are allowed to take private jets to other states and even NYC without any real adult supervision, and because my past observation of most of the kids just being over-the-top knowledgeable was ramped up in this one. Not only do some of these kids know just about every juvenile book ever written, plus have an extensive knowledge of the Dewey decimal system that they can mentally search whenever needed, but now some of those same kids know vast amounts of information about historical events and figures like the Wright brothers’ first flight. It’s all just a bit too much to swallow.

I did still like the puzzles and riddles along the way, though. I enjoy being able to solve some of the clues along with the kids, though that was certainly lighter in this one. The more of these grand-scale games Mr. Lemoncello dreams up, the bigger they seem to have to be, which is somewhat understandable from a fiction stand-point, but seems like it’ll be difficult to sustain. And strangely, while the game itself is grander, the prize is…considerably less so, though that might just be from an adult’s perspective.

The mystery that came up in the latter half of the book and stalled the great game was interesting, as it was quite the reflection of the way the general public will believe nearly anything if they’re given a convincing enough presentation, no matter if the facts back it up or not. Parts of the mystery were predictable, parts not so much, and in the end, while I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did the first two, I know that the things that brought it down the most for me are going to be more noticeable to an adult than the age group the book is meant for. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous two, and I think it’s safe to recommend it for kids around 8-12.

Find out more about Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #2
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

After their big win in Mr. Lemoncello’s escape game, Team Keeley is challenged by basically every kid in the country. They all want their chance at stardom (starring in commercials for Mr. Lemoncello games) and are unhappy that the contest was so localized. So Mr. Lemoncello grants them their wish, because hey, that means he gets to create more games! The top teams in each region of the country are chosen and invited to Ohio to compete for full college scholarships–against Kyle’s team. The only problem is that Kyle isn’t so sure he’s up to the challenge this time.

After the pure fun I had with the first book, I knew this wouldn’t be able to be quite the same. For one thing, it’s not so much with the escape room aspect anymore. There are puzzles involved in the games, but it’s not nearly the same as it was in the first book. However, it’s still a fun read, and even has a bit of mystery. So while I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I did the first book in the series, it was still good.

For all the similarities to Willy Wonka in the first book, this had even more. Including a particular bit that I guessed at from early on, comparing a character to a role in Roald Dahl’s book. Even still, though, the book did keep me guessing a bit as I waited to see if I was right. And unlike the “justice” in Wonka’s world, it’s nice to see some of the “bad” kids have a change of heart by the end of this book.

In my review of the first book, I mentioned that it was unrealistic how much knowledge some of these kids have–Kyle is about the only one who doesn’t come across like he lives and breathes books and studying. That was much more noticeable this time. Still overall, it’s a good book, fun for kids, and I continue to recommend it for kids around 8-12 and for parents, especially those who like games.

Find out more about Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Return of the King

The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings #3
by J.R.R. Tolkien
read by Rob Inglis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of the other books in this series, this is going to be less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. This is my first time through the trilogy, and I’m listening to the audiobooks, because I don’t think I’d make it through if I was reading. Also to reiterate–I have watched the movies several times, though it’s now been a few years since I last did so. And keep in mind, there may be some slight spoilers ahead.

So first, let me just say that wow, was I surprised when the ring was destroyed so early in the book! Seriously, does anyone get away with pacing like that these days? I understand a lot more now why the film had so many “endings,” which never bothered me like it did some others. It’s not hard to see how such an epic tale is owed so much wrap-up. But to see that the movies actually toned down the amount of story that took place after the climax was a surprise. And while I could have done without the storyline with Eowyn and Faramir, overall, I didn’t hate all of that follow-up like I expected to. The story of the hobbits taking back the Shire was interesting and gave a culmination for a major character that, when last seen, had become weak and whiny. I’d say maybe Tolkien should have kept this story for another book or appendix, but to be honest, I may not have read it then. So I can’t really complain about the length of the book after the climax. It’s still strange, though.

And in a related note, the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen, which is a huge deal in the movies (maybe too huge) is mostly shown in an appendix, as I understand it. So without reading that, it’s pretty lacking for me. Maybe someday I will, but I’m going to let Middle Earth sit for a while right now.

One more thing–I know a lot of people see Eowyn as a great example of a strong female character. In some ways, yes, she’s strong and determined. But I think I would have admired her more if she had chosen to stay behind. She essentially states that she has sworn to rule Rohan in place of those who are going to war, but seems to simply decide she’s tired of doing so. And she assumes that she was left to do so only because she was a woman. Whether or not that last part is true, I think the important factor here is that she agreed to it, and then decided to leave her homeland anyway. To me, honesty and integrity are more important than showing that women can do as much as men can. But yes, good did come of the action she chose, and if nothing else, it shows her as a real, flawed character.

I find it interesting that the 2nd book in the series was my favorite of the 3, even while I’m pretty sure it was my least favorite of the movies (though I did still like it plenty). I don’t think I’ll ever appreciate these books or the author as much as the diehard Tolkien fans do. However, I do anticipate re-reading these books more than once in the future (probably still as audiobooks, but who knows) and picking up something new each time.

Find out more about The Return of the King

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #1
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

Game-lover Kyle Keeley is desperate to win a spot in the overnight sleepover at the new, state-of-the-art local library. The library was designed by his hero, Mr. Lemoncello, who created pretty much every board game and video game Kyle loves. When the overnighter turns into a lock-in (literally), Kyle and his fellow 12-year-olds have to figure out how to escape.

My 10-year-old daughter convinced me to read this book, and by convinced I mean pushed, cajoled, and pestered me until I got to it. She loved it and was sure I would too. She was right! It’s a quick, mostly simple read, and once the lock-in part started up, it was the most just pure fun I’ve ever had reading a book.

Once morning comes, the kids have to find clues and solve puzzles in order to try to escape and win the big prize. The story is basically Willy Wonka meets escape rooms, which is right up my alley. But even better, it’s an escape room played in the entire 3-story (plus the basement) library! I was seriously jealous. Mr. Lemoncello is a really entertaining character, and the kids have distinct personalities, for the most part. I will say that the knowledge base for some of these kids was pretty unrealistic, but it didn’t really bother me. It was just too fun!

I think something else that is important, since the book is written for kids, is that my daughter is a huge fan. She’s read the first 4 books in the series and was ridiculously excited to find out that a 5th one came out a few months ago. I’ll really enjoy continuing this series and being able to talk to her about the books as I go. I think this is a great book for kids around 8-12, and for parents too, especially those who like games.

Find out more about Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Two Towers

The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings #2
by J.R.R. Tolkien
read by Rob Inglis

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of The Fellowship of the Ring, this is going to be less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. This is my first time through the trilogy, and I’m listening to the audiobooks, because I don’t think I’d make it through if I was reading. One note about the audiobook–Rob Inglis, the narrator, does a fantastic job! He even sings the songs, and while I suppose it would be strange if the narrator of these books with so many songs didn’t attempt to sing them, I still think it’s particularly neat.

I liked this book more than the previous, as we jump right back into the story. It felt more swiftly paced, too, even during the part where Frodo and Sam were wandering for a while. As with the previous book, my notes on this book are from a standpoint of having seen the movies several times, and I prefer the movie that goes back and forth between the two storylines, rather than showing all of one, then all of another. But I do appreciate that they were written to be two separate books, and then had to be combined into one. I also liked better, in the movie, not knowing that Sam had taken the ring from Frodo when he thought he was dead, or knowing that Sam was even following him, until the right moment.

One of the things I’m getting most out of reading the books after having a cursory understanding of the story from the movies is getting to understand the world and the characters more. For example, I like having a better understanding that Gandalf is something special (celestial, even), not just a simple wizard (whatever that would mean anyway). Also, Gollum is so wonderfully sarcastic in the book, which I just loved!

I know that I’m not going to appreciate these books the way that many others do; I don’t think I’m the right kind of person to really get into the history and depth Tolkien put into his world. But I’m still enjoying them and am glad I’m reading them.

Find out more about The Two Towers

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings #1
by J.R.R. Tolkien
read by Rob Inglis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of The Hobbit, this is going to be my less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. After reading The Hobbit, I knew I had to go on to read the LoTR series. However, I also knew that I would never make it through if I read the text. My sister once suggested listening to the audiobook instead, so though it’s not normally my preferred method of reading a book, I gave it a try. For something like this, it turned out to be great.

As someone who has seen these movies many times, it’s interesting to read the source material. I can also see now how other authors and books I’ve read are very influenced by this series of books. It was again, and even moreso in this book, interesting to get more depth on the story, on the world, and on some of the characters that are in the movies I’ve so enjoyed.

The main downside to me is that it just feels like the adventure takes way too long to get going. The events in the Shire before Frodo even leaves weren’t so bad, but I was astounded by how far into the book I was by the time the Hobbits got to Bree. After that, everything else felt super fast by comparison.

I know my reading of these books will be tainted in many ways by having seen the movies first, but there’s nothing I can do about that. But while I knew some things were made up or expanded in The Hobbit movie, and of course I knew that several events and characters were left out of the LoTR movies, I was surprised by some of it. Frodo selling Bag End was a sad shock. Arwen is barely mentioned in the book, and both Legolas and Gimli feel much less important than the movie makes them to be. And again, the amount of time that passes between plot points just amazed me (Frodo is 50 when he begins the journey!).

I am so glad I read The Hobbit first, too, because it adds a connection and even some emotion to know who Gimli’s father is, to know who Balin is, and to understand a bit more about who the dwarves that died in the Mines of Moria were. It’s also interesting to me that the elves know of Frodo, through Bilbo, and that Frodo even knows some of the elvish language! That’s completely lacking in the movies, but makes total sense, given the events of Bilbo’s adventure.

I’ve already started on The Two Towers, and look forward to finishing the series.

Find out more about The Fellowship of the Ring

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

This is not going to be a structured review with a recommendation or warning to stay away. It’s really just going to be my musings on my first foray into written Tolkien. First, let me give a reference point–as I said, I’ve never read any Tolkien before this. I have seen all of the movies, though. I love the LoTR movies, though have only watched the Hobbit movies once. Going into each of these 6 movies as they came out, I knew absolutely nothing about the stories. I know that having seen the movies, though, and fallen in love with some of the characters will taint the reading of the books for the first time. I’m okay with that.

So now, about this book. I decided some time last year to start with The Hobbit, because it’s written for a younger audience. I figured it’d give me an idea of what the LoTR books were like and of whether I even thought I’d be able to read them. Besides, The Hobbit precedes the other books, even if the movies came out in the opposite order. I am so very glad I did it this way. I enjoyed reading The Hobbit, even as I felt that the story meandered more than I would normally prefer. It was really interesting to get more depth on the story, on the world, on some of the characters.

I knew about some of the things that had been made up for the movie, like the female elf and her romance with one of the dwarves (Kili, I think?) or the fact that Legolas was there at all. But I had thought that the Necromancer was created by the movie makers as well, and it was interesting to see that Sauron was, in fact, a background menace in the book after all. No, we don’t follow Gandalf to see him, but he does speak of ousting him from Mirkwood.

I was surprised by how long the party tended to stay places. Days or even weeks on end, before they moved on. And I’ll tell you, Elrond does not seem to be portrayed well in the movies. I like Hugo Weaving, but I remember his Elrond as aloof, even haughty. He’s so much warmer in The Hobbit. But to be fair, I haven’t watched any of the movies for a few years now, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I’m remembering many things wrong. For all I know, I’m mashing Elrond together with Agent Smith.

So now that I’ve read this book, I have decided that I must move on to the LoTR books. I know they’ll be longer and probably harder to read, which is why I’m listening to audiobooks instead of reading physical copies (as I did with The Hobbit). I won’t become a lifelong Tolkien fan, I’m sure, but I’m already glad I’ve embarked on this quest.

Find out more about The Hobbit

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!